Thanksgiving is a flurry of orange and red cornucopia cardboard cutouts stuck onto supermarket windows and kindergarteners waving turkey-themed arts and crafts at their parents. Thanksgiving, for us, began with Dranksgiving and ended with Cyber Monday, an almost weeklong period of absolute excess. It’s not just Princeton. Overeating and overspending are ubiquitous at this time of year. I’ve almost stopped associating Thanksgiving with Pilgrims and Native Americans, and even less with counting my blessings and actually giving thanks. I think of Thanksgiving as a couple of days off when I can overindulge in cornbread, stuffing, and gravy (the best parts of the spread) while watching endless commercials about Black Friday specials. Our materialist culture, the commercialization of the holiday by corporations, and the fact that most stores now have “early Black Friday” sales which begin on Thanksgiving Day aren’t entirely to blame.
Thanksgiving, in theory, is a selfless holiday. We’re supposed to look at the people around us and think of how privileged we are to be with them. The best manifestation of this gratefulness should probably be verbal. Rather, our declarations of thankfulness have hit Instagram and other social media sites. As I scrolled through my feed this week, I was overwhelmed by the number of photos of family and friends, all captioned “thankful for [fill in gender pronoun].” Sometimes an emoji was tacked onto the end. While these public expressions of love and thankfulness are genuine, they can’t replace the old school phone calls, letters, and in-person conversations. As we move our thanks away from the dinner table and toward our phones, we lose a bit of what makes Thanksgiving so special, and I’m just as guilty as everyone else.
As far as Thanksgivings go, this was probably one of my most selfish to date. At Thanksgiving dinner, I bickered with my sister about the specifics of table manners and kicked my brother in the shins when he took the last piece of cornbread. This Thanksgiving dinner lacked the glow that always makes it so special. Disappointed, I skipped dessert, climbed up the stairs to my room, and took a nap.
I woke up an hour later with a migraine. I couldn’t open my eyes; a hazy, gray smoke had thickened the air. Sirens screamed in the street. I heard glass shatter. Strobe lights made my pupils dilate. Darkness alternated with an eerie red glow. Still woozy with sleep, I confusedly ran down the stairs, screaming for my dad.
I found my siblings and parents staring out the parlor window, looking at the firemen breaking down the neighbor’s door. My dad put his arm around me as I cried in relief. Smoke creeped up our window, snaking its way in. My sister coughed and covered her mouth with a damp sleeve. Two firemen came out of the house holding puppies in their arms. The firemen needed our roof access, so we opened our doors. They left black streaks on our walls. One ripped a hole in the window screen of my bedroom with his axe. I’d already broken that screen a few nights before when a friend and I clumsily pushed it out of the way to stargaze on the roof. I remember feeling thankful, then guilty for feeling thankful, that insurance would now cover those repairs.
I counted my blessings. Homes can be rebuilt. The puppies were saved. No one was hurt. Thanksgiving, the noun, is obsolete. It’s been destroyed by Black Friday, Cyber Monday, food comas, and political dinner talk. Consider Thanksgiving as a gerund. The act of thanksgiving. It brings back the meaning and purpose of the holiday.